French cleaning industry gets to grips with illiteracy

29th of October 2013
French cleaning industry gets to grips with illiteracy

The French cleaning federation is organising courses in reading and writing, reports Christian Bouzols.

More that 8,000 cleaning workers have taken life skill courses under the auspices of the French cleaning federation. These courses cover the ability to read, write, make elementary calculations and to get around in space and time. These courses have been organised by the Federation for the past 13 years because illiteracy is actually quite a problem in the sector specifically and in the country generally.

According to the national agency for the prevention of illiteracy, nine per cent of the French population are illiterate. The Federation programme is called ‘Clés en main’ (Keys to opportunity) and is carried out by teaching institutions to help cleaning workers to become more self-sufficient and easy to train.

This programme has been a great success as 17 per cent of the cleaners who took the courses went on to prepare for professional qualifications which would help them to move forward in their career. This was indeed a formidable opportunity for the great number of cleaning workers who didn’t get the benefit of a school education.

To understand what is at stake, one needs to picture ordinary cleaners at work. Every day they’ll be entering offices with post-its and other notices that many of them won’t be able to understand. They’ll see safety notices or notice boards which won’t be clear to them, or details of other premises they’ll have to work in, or schedules of tasks to accomplish, which they’ll find difficult.

These difficulties won’t prevent them from doing their work, but it’s a bit of a wager every time. As for the employers, they would like to rely on professional staff and meet their various legal, safety and procedural obligations. The ‘Clés en main’ training therefore aims at helping cleaning workers to feel more secure in carrying out their task and offering them better promotion prospects while satisfying their employers.

Totalling 290 hours and taking place during two half-days a week, the course is attended all over France by hundreds of cleaners who exchange their cleaning equipment for pen and paper to be taught four major life skills (reading, writing, elementary calculation and the ability to get around), complemented by six applied skills (numeracy and technology, attitude and behaviour, gestures, postures and observation, the world of regulation and cultural openness).

This training is based on real work situations and helps trainees to deal with the written material they’ll see every day, such as product labels, notice boards and work rotas.

Based on the official requirements of the various trades involved (cleaner, machine operator, window cleaner with scaffolding, refurbishment technician), the ‘Clés en main’ training leads to a professional certificate called ‘Maîtrise des compétences clés de la propreté’ (Working knowledge of the main cleaning skills) which is delivered by the national commission for employment and training of the cleaning sector.

By obtaining this certificate, cleaners improve their chances of being transferred to other cleaning jobs and progressing in their careers. It is a custom-made type of training that in helping cleaners to increase their skills and knowledge offers them scope for enriching their work experience.

Each year, the French cleaning sector spends about four million euros to fight illiteracy. In fact, it was the first economic sector to seriously tackle the problem. Among those who have attended the programme, 60 per cent are women, 50 per cent are over 45, 74.4 per cent are unskilled, 14.5 per cent are skilled workers, 10 per cent are office employees, and 52.7 per cent are full-timers.


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